Bradshaw was sitting in a plum tree in Hanks’ backyard. Under the tree was a sand box that nobody played in any more because Snort was away at the hospital so much of the time and Hanks had to go to school. Close to the garage was a pear tree, the strongest and biggest and oldest tree in the yard. On one of it’s wise old branches hung a now seldom used swing Dad had hung there for Hank’s a few years ago.
Mom had a garden under the windows of the built- in porch at the back of the house. It was a small yard, but it held trees and a vegetable garden and lilacs and sweet peas and poppies and bushes with puffy white flowers that covered the green leaves and looked a lot like tiny snow balls. There was a picnic table where Mom pitted sour red cherries in the summer time and canned them so they could have cherry cobbler in the winter. Mom made really really good cherry cobbler. A full family backyard Mom called it.
Bradshaw watched Mom pull the car up in the alley way behind their yard and park it in front of the garage. She climbed out of the car, slammed the door shut and went to the trunk of the car. Hanging out of the trunk was a spindly branchy stick that look rather sick and very fragile. It was maybe about 3 feet tall.
Mom took the sick looking stick and a shovel that was leaning against the garage and began to dig a hole in the middle of the backyard. The soil was dry and hard and mom worked until sweat began to trickle down her forehead into her eyes. It was clearly a big job for such a pitifully small piece of wood. When she made a hole big enough for the thread- like things hanging on what might be the bottom of the stick she stuck it in and covered it with the dirt she had dug up. Then she got the hose from the side of the house and watered whatever it was she was working so hard to bury.
Mom stood quietly looking at her handiwork, her hands folded in front of her, the sweat rubbed away with a handkerchief she had in her pocket, and a soft contented smile on her face. She reached out tenderly and stroked the spindly branches, made a big satisfied sighing sound and walked into the house.
Bradshaw climbed among the thick strong plum tree branches and kept on the look out for Hanks. She should be coming home from school soon. Maybe there would be time for a quick nap or, thought Bradshaw, maybe it would just be good to stretch out on a branch and have a good think. Thinking was always helpful when people did strange things. Like, why did mom work so hard and feel so proud of all she had been doing just now? What was that all about?
Hanks decided to take a short cut on her way home from school for lunch. She scooted down the alley and skipped past two neighbour’s houses then popped right into her own yard. She stopped short. What was that thing sticking out of the ground in the middle of her yard? Ugly! For sure ugly. An old ugly dead stick sticking up out of the ground looking terrible. Hanks went over to the ugly spindly stick and yanked it out of the ground and threw it in the heap of leaves and garden stuff at the end of the yard almost in the alley.
Mom was standing on the back porch when Hanks trashed the branch and she called out, Don’t Hanks. Don’t hurt my apple tree! Ha, Hanks called back. You can’t fool me. You played a trick, Mom. That is not an apple tree. It is a dead stick.
Mom walked briskly down the back porch steps over to the garden heap and rescued her tree. She went over to the hole that still had loosened dirt and buried it once again. Then she got the hose and gave it another drink.
Hanks watch Mom return to the house. When the back door was closed Hanks looked up at Bradshaw in the plum tree and said, Mom thinks she can play a trick on me but she can’t fool me. And Hanks marched over to the by now ratty looking tree or branch or stick or whatever the heck it was and once again yanked it out and threw it into the heap of trash. Then she ran into the house and got washed up for lunch. When Hanks walked past the dead looking thing on top of the trash as she went back for afternoon school, she gave it a withering look and shook her head. What a silly trick to try to play on me she muttered.
Bradshaw stayed in the tree until school was out in the afternoon. It felt like a long and baffling day. When Hanks walked into the yard around 3:15 and saw the dead stick trying to stand up tall and straight in the yard yet once again, she got very angry. Tricks, tricks, I hate tricks, Hanks sputtered as she grabbed the stick out of the ground and once again threw it away.
At dinner that night Mom’s eyes were red and watery and she was very quiet. Mom and Dad and Hanks ate without speaking until near the end of dinner when Mom said, Fruit trees mean a lot to me Hanks. I paid money for that tree.
When I was a little girl I didn’t have enough to eat. My brothers and sisters were hungry too. I have a garden and I plant fruit trees so I will always know that I have food for you and your brother. I love fruit trees. They help me feel safe. Fruit is very precious and trees show their love for us by nurturing us with food and shade and fuel for a fire and wood to build homes. Trees mean love.
On her way to school the next morning Hanks planted the failing apple tree in the spot in the middle of the yard that Mom and made for it. When she came home from school for lunch she saw that Mom had pulled the little tree out of the hole in the ground and put it back on the pile with the other garden waste.
Hanks wished she hadn’t killed Mom’s love.